Newcastle and Glasgow-based singer-songwriter and guitarist, Zak Younger Banks, is set to launch his debut EP this month and will be heading to Little Buildings in Newcastle so Lee Allcock caught up with him to find out more.
For those of our readers who haven’t heard your music before, can you describe it for them?
Indie fingerstyle guitar songs, but recently I’ve been using electric guitar and creating a more ambient sound. My roots are in trad music, and a lot of my songs are linked to a place that’s important to me. ‘How Do I Get Through These Nights’ was originally written to be sung unaccompanied with a drone – I love the way folk singers tell stories and express emotion like that. My guitar arrangements are inspired by indie artists like The Tallest Man on Earth, songwriters like Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen and folk singers like Martin Simpson and Dougie MacLean. I also use jazz theory, and synths and samples have definitely shaped my sound, even when I’m not using them. I want to keep exploring what I’ve learned from artists like Bon Iver, Lau and John Martyn, and use more complex arrangements for bands.
Your new EP, ‘Wrong Turns’, is a deeply personal record. Why did you decide to record it in such a remote location?
After a few significant changes in my life, I moved to Glasgow to study at the Conservatoire (RCS). I started to write new material that wasn’t as dark as the songs I’d been gigging in Newcastle, and I wanted to remember how I’d felt when I wrote all those songs and record them before taking my writing in a different direction. I chose Port Appin, in the Scottish Highlands, to have time alone with no distractions. Appin is a really beautiful and inspiring place to work.
You must have learnt a lot from going DIY?
Yeah, definitely. From the start, the recording process was pretty unconventional because I just had a laptop studio setup. The original plan was to send the tracks off to be mixed and mastered, but when I got back from Appin I was still adding layers. I’d mixed some demos before, but I definitely needed to improve my skills. My debut record seemed like the best chance I’d get to work like this.
Your songs are lyrically compelling, but you push boundaries musically too. When did you get into music, and who are your biggest influences?
When I was 14 I started playing trad guitar, and through that, I got into gigging. I was listening to a lot of singer-songwriters like Damien Rice and J Tillman, and that was when I started writing. My parents used to listen to Leonard Cohen, and when I started to read his lyrics, he became a huge influence.
You’ll be joined by a band for the first time for some of your EP launch gigs – you must be excited about that?
I’m very excited about it! I was fortunate to be part of Folkestra, based at Sage Gateshead, but as a singer, I’ve only played solo gigs. It’s good to be working with three trad players from Scotland who are also into other genres.
And finally, if you could play a gig anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Sage Gateshead holds many memories for me, so a headline gig there would be special.
Zak Younger Banks plays The Little Buildings in Newcastle on Friday 15th June. Tickets, priced at £5.00 in advance, are available from seetickets.com.